Seminar – Emotions and sexual pleasure’: Early forms of sexual counselling in Britain (1930s-1950s)

Caroline Rusterholz
(University of Cambridge)

Bio: Caroline Rusterholz is a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. She has worked on the history of birth control and sexuality in Britain, France and Switzerland.

Abstract:  This paper uses the recordings of sexual counselling sessions carried out by Dr Joan Malleson, a birth control activist and committed family planning doctor in the early 1950s, which are held at the Wellcome Library in London as a case study to explore the ways that emotions and feelings were mobilized in the treatment of sexual disorders and operated within the narrative of those who sought help in the matter. The lens of emotions allows us to dig into the ideas around heterosexuality that prevailed in the 1950s and the way the patients of this early form of sexual therapy navigated their expectations in terms of sexuality via the expressions of feelings of distress, sadness or indifference. This paper shows that the role of emotion is twofold. First, it tells us about the emotional impact on everyday women and men of not being able to comply with the hegemonic definition of what was perceived as ‘normal’ and ‘ideal’ sexuality. Emotions reveal the intricate nature of sexuality between conforming to sexual norms and individuals’ difficulties and sexual pleasure. Second, emotions were not only mobilized by the patients but also by Malleson, who used them as a tool to collect and understand individuals’ experiences and difficulties

Wednesday, 3rd October 2018, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue: LG24, Keppel Street Building